The West of England is fast becoming one of the most dynamic technology clusters in the world. The region is still a stronghold for agriculture, food and tourism, of course, but these days it’s so much more than that.
In the last decade, the South West – a region stretching from Cornwall, Devon and Dorset to Somerset, Bristol, Gloucestershire and Wiltshire – has firmly established itself as a powerhouse for tech. It’s even been given the moniker ‘Silicon Gorge’ in recent years.
And it’s not surprising. Some of the world’s biggest companies have established themselves in the area, which is now home to 17,500 tech firms including chip maker Graphcore, engineering giant Dyson and software firm Cardstream.
According to a report earlier this year by trade body Tech South West, the West of England’s technology sector already generates £11bn of gross value added (GVA) for the region’s economy, and is forecast to rise to close to £19bn over the next five years.
Bristol, in particular, is making a name for itself as a home for tech start-ups. The city was one of the most successful in Europe for attracting tech investment in 2022, analysis by the UK’s Digital Economy Council found. But there’s plenty going on elsewhere across the region, too.
Britain’s first space launch will take place at Spaceport Cornwall this year, while Bridgwater in Somerset is home to Hinkley Point C nuclear plant, which will use cutting-edge technology when it becomes active.
Then there’s Devon, with its twin science parks and universities, and Gloucestershire, whose cyber security sector is flourishing. The county’s proposed Golden Valley Development will have the UK’s new National Cyber Innovation Centre at its heart but will also include high-tech workspace for cyber start-ups. Dorset also has strengths in digital and agritech, while Wiltshire has become well-established for life sciences and defence.
Dan Pritchard, co-founder of Tech South West, said: “When you put it all together, the innovation and acceleration happening across the South West of England is startling.”
Here, we take a look at 10 South West tech companies to watch in 2023. In no particular order…
Sam Seaton is the chief executive of Moneyhub (Image: Silverlock Photography Limited) The finance and banking platform works with major blue-chip organisations including Aon, Nationwide and Vodafone to provide digital payment solutions. The Victoria Street-based business raised an initial £40m in a funding round in October, which saw Lloyds Banking Group and financial services giant Legal & General become minority stakeholders. The company also scooped three awards at the BristolLive Business Awards in 2022.
Virgate Accounts, Gloucestershire
Virgate staff outside the company’s new head office in Gloucestershire (Image: Virgate) The fintech provides digital accountancy services to more than 50 SMEs across the hospitality, leisure and retail sectors. The company, which was founded by local entrepreneur Sarah Travell in 2017, recently expanded into new offices in Quedgeley after a period of “significant” growth. It is planning further expansion in 2023 and has said it will be generating more local jobs to drive its growth.
Ooooby, Devon Founded by Dartington-based Pete Russell, Ooooby (Out Of Our Own Backyards) is an organic food delivery platform that facilitates real food sales and logistics from gate-to-plate. It is already operating across the UK, Australia and New Zealand and was selected in 2022 to take part in a government-backed net-zero programme . Industry body Tech Nation has said the company has the potential to scale and strengthen the sector.
Synertec, Somerset The Wellington-based communications automation company was responsible for issuing Covid vaccine invitation letters and text message reminders during the pandemic. In 2022 it secured £13m in funding from NatWest, which it is using to explore new markets and create jobs. The company said it would also use the cash injection to open a new site in Milton Keynes.
Savvy Navvy, Dorset
Former Google software engineer Jelte Liebrand founded the Dorset-based firm (Image: savvy navy) Jelte Liebrand, who established global marine technology company Savvy Navvy in 2017, was named the UK’s most successful scale-up entrepreneur in 2022. The businessman, who refers to his company as the “Google Maps for boats”, said the app had almost doubled its users in more than 100 countries around the world in the last 12 months. In August, the firm agreed a major deal to work with the world’s largest boat rental platform.
Xigxag co-founders Mark Chaplin and Kelli Fairbrother (centre) at the Cornwall Business Awards 2022. (Image: Xigxag) The audio and ebook app won a major award for being one of the most innovative tech companies in the UK earlier this year. The Gunnislake-based business has built a catalogue of more than 40,000 titles from 15 publishers, including Penguin Random House and Pan Macmillan. In July, the company raised £1, which it said it would use to expand the capacity of its development team and broaden its marketing channels.
Role Mapper, Exeter
Sara Hill is the founder of RoleMapper (Image: VICKI SHARP PHOTOGRAPHY) Role Mapper was founded by Sara Hill in 2019 and has developed a platform that allows companies to design and structure jobs that improve diversity when hiring staff. Its technology also helps firms recruit candidates based on their skill set rather than educational background. In November, it raised £1.75m in its latest funding round. The firm said the cash would enable it to add new features to the platform, boost sales and marketing, and expand its 22-strong team.
Immersive Labs, Bristol
James Hadley is the founder of Immersive Labs (Image: Bristol Post) The cyber-security firm was founded by ex-GCHQ trainer James Hadley in 2017 and has developed an online platform for organisations to identify gaps in a workforce’s cyber knowledge. It employs more than 300 staff at its offices in Bristol and Boston, in the US. The business has been on a major growth trajectory, raising a whopping $66m (£59.7m) in its latest funding round in October. Immersive Labs, which counts corporate giants such as HSBC, Citi, Pfizer and Daimler among its customer base, also opened a new HQ in Bristol this year.
MSubs, Plymouth The submarine manufacturer created the first autonomous vessel to cross the Atlantic. The Mayflower Autonomous Ship (MAS400) set sail from Plymouth, in Devon, in April 2022 and arrived in Plymouth, Massachusetts – via a pit stop in Halifax in Nova Scotia – to a rapturous reception in the US. The company is part of the Submergence Group, an advanced maritime research and development firm based in Estover. The business employs around 80 highly skilled staff.